This section has been reviewed and approved by the PLWC Editorial
Change in the sense of taste (dysgeusia) is a
change in the way foods taste. Some foods may taste different than they
used to, foods may not have much taste at all, or everything may taste
the same. Bitter, sweet, and salty foods may taste different than they
did before, and some people with cancer experience a metallic or chemical
taste in their mouth, especially after eating meat or other high-protein
foods. Taste changes can lead to food aversions (or dislikes), loss
of appetite, and weight loss.
Taste changes are a common side effect of chemotherapy. About 50% of
people receiving chemotherapy experience taste changes. Chemotherapy
drugs commonly associated with taste changes include cisplatin
doxorubicin (Doxil), fluorouracil (5-FU), paclitaxel (Taxol), and vincristine (Oncovin).
Taste changes caused by chemotherapy usually clear up about three to four
weeks after the end of treatment. Some other medications, including some opioid (strong) painkillers and antibiotics, can also
cause taste changes.
Radiation to the neck and head can cause taste changes because of damage
to the taste buds. Radiation can also cause changes to the sense of
smell. Since smell and taste are closely linked, changes to the sense of
smell can affect how foods taste. Taste changes caused by radiation
usually begin to improve from three weeks to two months after the end of
treatment. Improvement may continue for about a year, but the sense of
taste may not entirely return to the way it was before treatment.
Other causes of taste changes include surgery to the nose, throat, or
mouth; biological therapies such as Interleukin-2 (Aldesleukin
or Proleukin); dry mouth; damage to the
nerves involved in tasting; mouth infections; dental or gum problems;
and nausea and vomiting.
There are no specific treatments for taste
problems. Discuss any changes in taste with your doctor, who may be able
to help you pinpoint a cause. Treatment from a dentist will help improve
taste changes caused by mouth infections, dry mouth, or dental or gum
problems. The following tips can help people who are experiencing taste
changes. Depending on the cause of taste changes, different tips may work
better for some people than for others.
- Choose foods that smell
and taste good, even if the food is unfamiliar.
- Eliminate cooking smells
by using an exhaust fan, cooking on an outdoor grill, or buying
precooked foods. Cold or room-temperature foods also have less of an
- Cold or frozen food may taste
better than hot foods.
- Try using plastic
utensils and glass cookware to lessen a metallic taste.
- Try sugar-free, mint gum
or hard candies (such as mint, lemon, or orange) to mask a bitter or
metallic taste in the mouth.
- If red meats don't taste
good, try other protein sources such as poultry, eggs, fish, peanut
butter, beans, or dairy products.
- Try marinating meats in
fruit juices, sweet wines, salad dressings, or other sauces.
- Flavor foods with herbs,
spices, sugar, lemon, or sauces.
- To avoid food aversions
caused by nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, do not eat one to
two hours before and up to three hours after chemotherapy. In
addition, avoiding favorite foods just before chemotherapy helps
prevent aversions to those foods.
- Rinsing with a salt and
baking soda solution before meals may help neutralize bad tastes in
the mouth (½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup
of warm water).
- Keep a clean and healthy
mouth by brushing frequently and flossing daily.
- Zinc sulfate supplements
may help improve taste in some people.